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Walton Burrell Photographic Album – part 1

Purchased and then deposited at Bury St Edmunds branch in 2000 by the Friends of Suffolk Record Office, this large album (K997) of 260 pages contains more than 2,000 photographs.  The collection description summarises the background of the cameraman Walton Robert Burrell.

The first step – taking it apart

When it arrived the album was in one piece but the boards were loosely attached; the binding was large and heavy and the whole item worn through use. The photographs are nearly all black-and-white traditional gelatin silver-based prints. Testing in 2000 showed the pages were acidic with most values between pH 4 and 5.

In 2004 the binding was recorded and disbound so that most of the photographs could be digitised; the sections were then stored unbound. During disbinding it became clear that the album was an amalgamation of at least two previously separate albums. The extent of damage to the album also became clear including that pages and photographs were damaged or missing and even one or two whole gatherings lost.

In 2008 work began to give the pages a permanent housing but first we started by conserving the pages and photographs themselves. The edges of most pages had multiple tiny tears through handling; these were repaired with very thin Japanese tissue and any missing parts replaced with Japanese paper dyed to blend in. The tissue was pre-coated with adhesive to minimise the amount of moisture needed to adhere it which reduced the risk of bleeding of the moisture-sensitive ink, often present in captions near the page edges. Missing areas or whole pages were replaced with blank paper that generally matched the originals in colour and weight.

Some photographs were dog-eared or creased causing cracking to the emulsion; these were repaired with a tissue lining on the reverse and re-adhering the emulsion on the front. One of the most troublesome tasks of this stage was the removal of a modern adhesive that had been used to repair a break at the spine; we used solvent vapour to soften and remove it.

Read on for how we put the album back together again